Summary: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

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Ash Wednesday February 25, 2009 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, this evening we begin another season of Lent, another journey in faith, in which we attempt to follow our Lord on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, prepare our hearts and minds to appreciate anew the gift of our Lord’s redemption, which we receive through our faith and baptism into his death and resurrection. Open us to the truth of your Word, that we might be strengthened in faith in your gift of grace. We ask this in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

This evening we begin another Lenten journey. I say another, because for many of us, the keeping of Lent is a treasured tradition, which we have learned from an early age. And these mid-week hours, set aside for worship, prayer, and the study of God’s Word, are a blessing to our faith, year after year. We have come to realize that this extra time we devote to our Lord, enables us to celebrate with renewed spiritual vigor, God’s gift of grace, poured out for us through Christ’s death and resurrection.

And the guiding word for us, as we begin our Lenten journey, is our Lord’s call for personal reflection upon the true meaning of our spiritual life, our relationship with God. According to our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches his disciples: “Beware of practicing your piety (or your reverence toward God) before others, in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven…” He then goes on to say that if we truly want to show reverence to God, we need to avoid a public display of our faith, and be secret about our offerings, our prayers, and our fasting – the disciplines of Lent.

When I read our Gospel lesson for this evening, and began to put some ideas together for my sermon, a couple of crazy thoughts popped into my mind. The first crazy thought that I had, was that “just maybe, as Christ’s church, we have taken this secret business of our faith too much to heart. Perhaps our faith has become so secret, so personal, that we feel we don’t need corporate worship and study of Scripture to grow in faith.

After all, if St. Mark’s is like St. John’s, there are less members of our congregations coming out and participating in this mid-week Lenten “tradition” that has proven throughout the ages, to be a source of spiritual growth for Christians. In fact, I would posture to guess that our weekly attendance at worship and Sunday school might have declined over the past several years, as well.

But it is a crazy thought to think that when Jesus suggested that we go into a closet to pray, that we avoid public worship and the gathered community of the faithful. Jesus didn’t do that! According to the Gospels, we are told that “Jesus, as was his custom,” worshipped in the synagogues of the towns and villages that he visited, every Sabbath. So

if Jesus didn’t avoid public worship, what are we to make of this text?

I believe that there are two dimensions to faith development. One side is corporate – our participation in the community life of a congregation of Christ’s church. It is there that we hear the history of God’s desire for his creation, expressed through his Word, which confronts us as law and Gospel.

It is there that we begin to learn what it means to be a child of God, through our participation in the fellowship of a community, that is defined as God’s own family. And it is there, that we are disciplined in faith and experience the continual gift of God’s redeeming grace. This dimension of faith we cannot learn in a closet.

However, I also believe that there is a personal dimension of faith. This aspect of faith results, when through the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives, we begin to assimilate or take into ourselves our identity as a child of God. It is the ongoing process of personally realizing the truth of our baptism, and that through the grace of God in Jesus the Christ, we have a future as God’s sons and daughters beyond our life hear on earth.

Thus, it is to this personal dimension of our faith, that I believe that Jesus addressed his comments. Through the use of hyperbole, Jesus is saying, “Don’t just go through the motions of worship, but allow the power of God’s Spirit access to the secrecy of our hearts, that the Spirit might take what we experience in corporate worship, and make it a reality.” It is what happens when instead of just going through the motions of worship, we actually find ourselves loving and worshiping the God of our salvation. And that is not such a crazy idea! It is the power of God’s Spirit at work in us to assure us of his grace for our lives.

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